Personality of Coco Chanel
1. Remembering a fashion legend – Coco Chanel
“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”
Who can ever forget the striking image of Coco Chanel vividly smiling in front of the camera, in her signature white suit, a silky black shirt and several rows of pearls around her neck? She was not only a fashion icon and a fashion legend but an artist in her own right. Born and lived in France, she was a prominent fashion figure with a unique style who revolutionized women’s fashion in the early 20th century. Her name and logo, an overlapping double ‘C’, are internationally recognized as symbols of elegance and excellence. In spite of not being a feminist her work was viewed as a milestone in women’s liberation.
Chanel owned her style, hence earning the admiration of many. Her striking beauty, her dashing smile and her bright brown eyes, made her stand out from the crowd. With her short brown hair perfectly styled and wearing simple eye makeup, she embodied glamour and sophistication. Red lipstick was a must and it reflected her fiery character to perfection. That, along with her quick-witted spirit captivated those around her immediately. She could effortlessly pull off any outfit thanks to her petite, flat-chested, slim-hipped, boyish figure. Her chic dressing style could never go unnoticed. Suits with collarless jackets, slim skirts, pearls and little hats with elegant bows completed her classic look that, up to this day, remains timeless. Her movements were lithe and graceful, yet there was self-confidence in them as well. She was lively and vivacious, even as she got older.
Her designs, a combination of elegance and comfort, were far ahead of their time. She worked very hard to highlight the natural beauty of the female body and to make it seem as it really is. She despised the fancy, uncomfortable tight dresses that dominated fashion at the time. Not only were those clothes shaping the females’ bodies away from nature, but they actually hurt and could cause harm as well. Thus,
her clothing lines were both high quality and comfortable, designed to meet the everyday woman’s needs to walk, work and breathe with ease.
Chanel revolutionized the fashion industry by adapting men’s style in female image, and introducing innovations such as men’s trousers and sweaters in female fashion, the small black dress, the first bag for women to come with a shoulder strap, simple luxuries that changed not only the shape of clothing but the lives of women as well. Thanks to her sharpness and creativity, all her efforts in fashion were crowned
She was her own muse and thus she only designed clothes that matched her taste, suit and fit her perfectly. However, the many men in her life, with their casual and comfortable clothing, inspired and influenced her designs as well. But, above all, her designs seem to reflect her strong will for independence that served her well during the difficult times of her life. Her fashion expressed her vibrant personality, her
need to stand out among other women and leave the bad memories such as the years in the orphanage
and the loss of her loved ones behind.
2. Coco Chanel’s personality
“Those who create are rare; those who cannot are numerous. Therefore, the latter are
According to Myers-Briggs personality types and looking deep into Coco Chanel’s personality traits and life, she most probably belonged to the “Composer” type. Composers are active people that pursue their goals with determination and have a strong aesthetic sense. Gifted at creating from a young age, Chanel used to make her own dolls and growing up, in her teens she used to sew her own clothes, which
showcased her talent and turned her to fashion design. Her creative nature along with determination and strong will for hard work led her to achieve her goals and brought her success.
While Composers might have a lot of traits that make them seem extroverts at first glance, they most certainly have to fight with their introversion. Their warm and friendly approach to everything and everyone covers up any difficulty and weakness in socializing and connecting with other people. Chanel was quite popular and had a lot of friends who found her presence pleasant and loved to invite her to
their parties and have fun together. She also had many lovers in her life and many passionate relationships. However, despite her many love affairs, she never got married and despite the affectionate and supportive relationship she had with her friends, sometimes conflict and competition divided them. It seems like she desperately longed to be loved but at the same time she kept her distances and seemed
to be comfortable with solitude and being alone. Only a few people truly knew her. She liked to make up stories about her past and only shared her most intimate thoughts and feelings with her close ones. To the world, she was a strong, bold woman, whilst her true self remained hidden behind a veil of sadness.
Chanel was undoubtedly a strong, independent woman who build a fashion empire entirely on her own, based on her talent and determination. Becoming financially independent was her top priority, and not only did she accomplish that goal, but she surpassed every other expectation becoming rich and famous. Her spirit couldn’t be confined, couldn’t be restrained. She fled the monastery she grew up at and pursued a free life without “do’s and don’ts. Freedom and independence meant the world to her. Thus, through her designs, she tried to free women from corsets and tight clothes as well.
Every now and then, she used to experiment with new sewing patterns and techniques, whilst she often came up with ideas that no other designer had ever thought of in the past. She brought new meaning to fashion, went against the norm and created her own unique fashion trends. Like most Composers, she had an artistic nature and a strong aesthetic sense. Her clothes and accessories created a unique aesthetic
that defined 1920s fashion. Her perfumes, on the other hand, became legendary.
Chanel was a kindhearted, compassionate woman, who preferred to show her love through actions and not words alone. She was always willing to financially support her friends’ artistic efforts and always helped her family when in need. As a matter of fact, she even bought her nephew and her brother a house each. She was a sensitive soul who wanted nothing more than to bring light and happiness into other
peoples’ lives. And thus, Chanel did something that no one else did at the time. She listened to women’s needs, and through high-quality fashion, she boosted their confidence and made their lives easier. And all these are traits of a Composer.
3. Coco Chanel’s childhood years
“I don’t like the family. You’re born in it, not of it. I don’t know anything more terrifying than
Chanel wasn’t proud of her family. Her childhood memories were filled with pain and humiliation. She always kept her hopes of a better life alive, but that took long enough to come. Maybe that’s the reason for her many secrets and the numerous stories she made up about her past. Maybe each story served its own purpose, maybe not. It is almost impossible to untangle the truth from the lies in her stories and dig
out the secrets of Chanel’s personal life. “People’s lives are an enigma”, she said once, maybe considering her own life’s veil of mystery she had created.
Coco Chanel was born into poverty on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, Maine-et-Loire, France, a market town on the river Loire. Her father was a traveling salesman and her mother was a laundrywoman. Chanel claimed that she was born during one of their travels when her mother followed her father on the road. But that is yet another lie, for she was born in a poorhouse run by the Sisters of Providence. One of the Sisters became her godmother and the little girl was given the name “Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel”. Gabrielle adopted the nickname Coco many years later, during her singing years.
Coco Chanel’s absent father
As a child Chanel suffered a great deal from the constant absence of her father. He wasn’t present at her birth either and her mother was constantly on the search of her “missing” partner. It is much likely that this man never wished to make a family at all, as he even refused to marry Chanel’s mother at first. The two only got married a year after Chanel’s birth, who was their second child. Four more kids followed
quickly after but unfortunately, their mother died, and their father abandoned them once again and left to find his happiness elsewhere. Chanel made up stories, imagining that her father loved her more than her siblings. In her mind, he bought her beautiful dresses and fought with the ghosts under her bed as any loving father would do.
It is of common knowledge that father absence may influence child behavior, especially in early and middle childhood. Those children tend to suffer greater emotional and social difficulties than others do. Feelings of anxiety, insecurity and even aggression can easily follow them into adulthood. Children of an absent father often carry unanswered questions and guilt over his absence. They might even blame
themselves for their abandonment and think that they do not deserve their father’s love. It is remarkable how Chanel’s made-up stories enabled her to maintain a positive image of her father in her mind. It seems like she was in denial, refusing to see the painful reality, his constant absence. With the help of her imagination, she tried to portray him as a loving, carrying father and a worthy role model.
Perhaps this was a defense mechanism, a way of maintaining a relationship with him, even fictional, and
a means of relieving the unbearable pain of abandonment.
Coco Chanel’s playtime in the cemetery
During her earliest years – presumably around the age of six – Chanel’s favorite “playground” was a cemetery in Auvergne. She used to s pend hours and hours playing there with her toys, two handmade rag dolls she had made herself. There, she immersed herself in an imaginary world, where the dead came to life to keep her company. Two of the tombstones were her favorite. They belonged to people she had never known, nonetheless every now and then she would visit the graves bringing flowers in an attempt to get the love and communication that her parents deprived her of. She used to sit there alone, pouring her heart out to them like she never did to anyone before. The world of the living had, after all, already let little Coco down.
The death of Coco Chanel’s mother
According to Chanel, her mother fell ill with tuberculosis. She recalled her mother coughing, staining with blood her white handkerchiefs. Eventually, Chanel’s mother succumbed to the illness and died. Chanel was then only 11 years old. Her mother was found dead in her bed in the little cold room she lived with her children. Yet, no one can tell for sure if tuberculosis was the real cause of her death. Poverty and all those pregnancies had taken their toll on her too. Her husband was once again absent, and no one knows how long these children stayed in the room alone with their dead mother, waiting for someone to come for help.
The death of a parent is undoubtedly one of the most traumatic incidents in a child’s life and has a great impact on the child’s emotional stability and self-esteem. The child has to adapt to a completely new situation, a new reality that is not of his/her choice. Coping with the loss of the mother is especially hard since, in most cases, it’s the mother who takes care of the children. Among the most common disorders
linked to the loss of a parent are low self-esteem and the sense of losing control of one’s own life, whilst later on, as grown-ups, some might experience anxiety, depression, or even self-destructive impulses. Therefore, the remaining parent has to take on a double role and care for the children full time. However, in Chanel’s case, no such thing happened. Her father was already absent and thus after the death of her
mother, the little girl felt completely and utterly alone in the world.
4. Coco Chanel’s life in the orphanage
“Childhood- you speak of it when you’re very tired, because it’s a time when you had hopes,
expectations. I remember my childhood by heart.”
After their mother’s death, Chanel’s father took the children to Aubazine. He sent his three daughters to a Cistercian monastery, known as Aubazine Abbe, which ran an orphanage, and his two sons to work in a farm. That orphanage was home to Chanel from the age of 11 till the age of 18. She never saw her father again, nor did he ever send any money for their upbringing. She couldn’t admit that she spent her
childhood in an orphanage, thus she told the world that her father left her in the care of two strict, cold aunts in black. According to Chanel her father left for America in pursuit of better opportunities. Despite the fact that her father abandoned them once again, Chanel couldn’t blame him. She justified his actions as a heroic act for a good cause, claiming that she would do the same in his place.
Despite her father’s constant rejections Chanel seemed to identify herself with him. Yet, her attitude comes as no wonder, since children need to identify themselves with the family’s strongest role model. Chanel’s father, despite his absence, was nevertheless alive, and in her mind, stronger than her sickly and now forever gone mother.
Growing up in the convent Chanel learned how to sew and hem, some vital skills for her career later on. But she was still a little girl who craved for attention and affection. At nights when she couldn’t sleep, she would make her nose bleed on purpose and cried for the nuns to come by her side and console her. But there were also times when the nuns were cruel, and they stripped her of her clothes and beat her. The humiliation was terrible, and the pain followed her for days.
The dressing code was very strict as well. When Chanel turned 15, she was sent to a dressmaker to have a dress done. Chanel chose a purple tailored dress inspired by the heroine of her favorite book. However, when the day came to wear it, she of course, wasn’t allowed to and was made to send the dress back.
5. The Notre Dame school
“Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.”
Chanel and her sisters used to spend holidays with their grandparents. Despite the disappearance of her father, Chanel got very close to them. The girls had two aunts as well, Andrienne and Luise. Andrienne and Chanel were nearly the same age – Andrienne was only a year older than her – and soon the two became inseparable. When Chanel turned 18, the nuns arranged for her to be transferred to the Notre
Dame school in Moulins, a religious institution that Adrienne was already attending.
While at Notre Dame, Chanel was treated with disdain. The distinction between the students was evident. Fee-paying students, in addition to charity pupils, wore a higher quality and expensive uniform. There, intending to work as a seamstress in the future, Chanel got the chance to develop her sewing skills further. Adrienne and Chanel used to spend holidays in Louise’s house, where they were practicing sewing together. They used to collect scraps of white cloth and transformed them into facings to decorate their plain black school uniforms. They might not have had the money to buy the clothes they envied, but they had all the talent and skill to make them themselves.
But, all the while, Chanel hated her miserable life of poverty. She used to read romantic novellas, whose heroines lived a life of luxury, among silk pillows and polished furniture. She envied that lifestyle and used to vent her frustration on her old wooden bed breaking little bits of it now and then. With all this romance and fiction Chanel got carried away. Crazy thoughts like suicide crossed her mind. She wanted
to be like those bold heroines and thought that by committing suicide she would express her dismay and her frustrations just like they did in the books. For her, it would be a way to escape a world where no one loved her.
New name, new life. From Gabrielle to Coco
Whilst still a student at Notre Dame, Chanel got a job in the same draper’s store as Andrienne. All grown up now and out of the school’s walls the two girls started having a social life. Their beauty was spotted by half a dozen men, who showed them their interest and asked them out on dates to “La Rotonde”, a local music venue. Dazzled by the singers’ performance there, longing for fame and determined to start
singing on that stage too, Chanel found a regular slot and with just two songs started off her “singing career”. One of them “Qui qu’a vu Coco?”, a song about a girl who searched for her lost dog, marked her for life. The audience christened her with the name of the dog and from then on Gabrielle transformed into the later famous Coco.
6. Coco Chanel’s first love – Etienne Balsan
“I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.”
Since Chanel constantly lied about her past, accounts differ on how she met her first love, Etienne Balsan. A version says the two met at a tee party in Vichy when Chanel was visiting her grandfather who was working at the spas’ in the area. Etienne Balsan, a rich and young horse breeder, stole Chanel’s heart who after a romantic date the day after, agrees to move in with him into his home in Compiegne. And
so, desperate for a way out of her misery, Chanel run off with a stranger. Chanel and Balsan immediately fell in love and their romantic relationship began in his home in Compiegne that became Chanel’s new sanctuary. Even so, she didn’t feel like she was getting all the
love and attention she deserved. She wasn’t Balsan’s only lover after all. Another woman was living in Balsan’s house; Émilienne d’Alençon, a famous dancer, actress and courtesan of the time – 14 years older than Chanel – was coming first in Balsan’s heart. Émilienne and Balsan had a peculiar relationship. She could freely have other lovers and he could have as many other women as he wanted. Their home was
always open to the elite of the time and numerous parties were held for their enjoyment. Coco spent six years in that house. She was neither Balsan’s wife nor a servant. Not knowing what her place in the house was, she soon started feeling trapped. She cried a lot and wished to go home but she didn’t have a home of her own no more. The only thing that made her feel better and forget her worries was horse-riding. During this time, she adopted an equestrian style. She had a rather boyish appearance wearing simple pants, riding jackets and white shirts that made her differ from the rest of the women in the luxurious dresses and the heavy makeup. Straw hats or ribbons used to decorate her braided hair.
Chanel soon realized that she had nothing in common with all the courtesans around her. However, she preferred their company, rather than that of the women of society. Chanel thought they looked striking with the plumed hats and furs, and always smelled nice and clean. Chanel once claimed that she was made to kiss her mother’s corpse and therefore after that, she came to appreciate cleanliness and
developed a strong aversion to odors and smelly people.
In the meantime, the only person who seemed to care about how she was doing was Emilienne, who was frequently asking Chanel if she was happy. Chanel not only did not hate her, she admired her. After all, Emilienne was a woman who began her career in the circus and ended up becoming rich and respected, something that Chanel had always been dreaming of. As for Chanel, she managed to maintain her innocence, but all the while, influenced by the women around her all this time, she enriched her style incorporating elements of elegance and sophistication that later became the key to success in her life.
7. Coco Chanel’s first steps into the world of fashion
“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent their growing.”
Coco Chanel’s relationship with Boy Capel
It was 1909 when Chanel met the wealthy English aristocrat Arthur “Boy” Capel, a close friend of Etienne Balsan. She was then 26 years old, whilst Capel just two years older than her. Their attraction was immediate. Capel swept her off her feet, and Chanel decided to leave Balsan. She followed the young man in Paris, having only written Balsan a letter to explain herself. It was the start of a dramatic and passionate relationship.
Capel meant the world for Chanel. She found in him the safety and comfort she lacked growing up, the family she never had. Capel, on the other hand, was treating her like a child. He spoiled her with flowers and luxuries and scolded her for her poor manners and lies. He gave her space and autonomy but there were times when he was overprotective and oppressive. However, just like his friend Balsan, he couldn’t stay loyal to just one woman. Chanel seemed to care less for his infidelity and believed she was special to him. She adored him and though she had found the perfect man in him.
It seems that Chanel, in order not to get hurt and emotionally distraught by Capel’s infidelity and oppressing behavior, tended to idealize him. She overlooked his flaws and showed him love thinking he was perfect. Perhaps she had the need to lean on to him and overcome her own anxiety and insecurities. Therefore, she preferred to think of him as a great and powerful man. After all, she could certainly benefit
from his prestige and power.
Capel and Balsan’s help
Everybody knew that Chanel loved making clothes and all she desired was to be financially independent. Capel and Balsan – who never stopped loving her despite her leaving him like that – helped her make her dream come true. Capel gave her the money for the business expenses and Balsan gave her his apartment in Paris to use as a showroom. She started her business making simple hats without many
decorations. Naturally, she modeled them herself and her first clients were the courtesans who she met during her relationship with Balsan. On her first public appearance with Capel, Chanel wore a simple white dress, and no one could take their eyes off her. When sales went up, Capel found a new bigger space for her boutique in town. Now, apart from hats, Chanel was making clothes as well. She drew inspiration from her own comfortable boyish style and Capel’s sporty outfits. To Chanel, the era of romantic lace dresses was dead and gone.
Coco Chanel’s fainting episodes
Despite the tremendous success of her business, it seems that something was troubling Chanel at the time, as she had fainting episodes, especially when she was in crowded places, such as the racetrack. There were even times, when she was brought home completely unconscious. “I had too much emotion, too much excitement, I lived too intensely. My nerves couldn’t stand it” Chanel once said referring to
those incidents. Most likely, she was overwhelmed by her anxiety and worry that she would lose Capel, her only anchor in life, who at the time was not always there for her. He appeared and disappeared from her life just like her father used to do. However, when he was by her side, he made her feel secure. She claimed he could cure her just by saying: “I’m here. Nothing can happen to you. Faint while I’m here.”
Chanel drew power from her work. Her accomplishments gave her confidence and made her feel that she was standing on her own two feet. Her talent could offer her so much more than a lover’s affection did. The fact that she was still financially dependent on Capel though made her nervous. There were times she even hated him for that. However, after a while, her profit rose dramatically, and she no longer
Certainly, the House of Chanel created a special bond between the two. However, rumor has it that Chanel and Capel shared a deeper bond than that. Chanel and Capel took on and unofficially adopted Chanel ‘s six-year-old nephew André Palasse and sent him to an English boarding school to be educated. Capel’s mysterious involvement in André’s upbringing rose many questions. Despite the cloak of obscurity around the childhood of the mysterious nephew, Chanel confined to her close friends that Capel was calling him son. Thus no one can say for sure if she was the aunt or the mother of the child.
8. The story behind the little black dress
“I imposed black; it’s still going strong today, for black wipes out everything else around.”
Soon, Chanel became a prominent figure in the business of design, adored by all high-class ladies. Her eccentric outfit choices attracted attention and created new fashion trends. One of her most controversial outfits and designs of the time was the little black dress.
Chanel didn’t like to play by the strict rules of female fashion. She used to narrate a rather peculiar story about the night she took the decision to cut her hair short – which used to fell below her waist – and experiment with the black color. According to her story, she was getting ready for a night out to the opera with her friends. She had a white dress on and had her annoying hair braided into three braids when by
her own mistake the gas burner in the bathroom blew up. With her hair half-burned and full of soot from head to toe but determined to go out nevertheless, she decided to cut her braids on her own and slip into a black dress. No wonder she stole the scene at the opera with her new style.
Boy Capel’s death
On Monday 22 December 1919, Capel was driving from Paris to Cannes when a tire explosion led him to his death. The news of his death came as a jolt to Chanel’s sensitive heart. She never got over the loss of this man who was not only her lover but her patron and benefactor as well. The tragic news of his death was delivered to her by a close friend who visited her late at night. Her heart broke into a million pieces, but she didn’t shed a single tear. “The worst of it was this woman crying with dry eyes,” said her friend. She couldn’t find the strength to attend his funeral, but she wanted to go to the accident’s scene instead. Touching the damaged car, she burst into tears.
“In losing Capel, I lost everything,” she admitted years later. Yet, Capel wasn’t entirely hers, for he had married another woman a few years earlier. That, however, didn’t stop them from loving each other and keep up seeing each other at Chanel’s house. Thus, it was no surprise to anyone when his will was published, that he left £40.000 to Chanel. That money helped Chanel expand her business’ premises even
further and make a luxurious gift to herself, a villa on the West side of Paris, named Bel Respiro. After Capel’s death, Chanel made a habit of wearing black, turning the color of mourning into a chic fashion statement. In 1926, American Vogue presented Chanel’s design of an elegant, figure-hugging, black crepe dress, worn with a string of white pearls. Women loved the simplicity of the little black dress and black came through as a symbol of power and freedom. Being controversial but revolutionary at the same time, Chanel achieved what she wanted ever since her first visits to the opera in 1920: to make women throw away the ill-fated colorful dresses sold by her competitors and dress them in imposing black.
9. Coco Chanel’s friendship with Misia Sert
“My friends, there are no friends.”
Chanel’s closest friend was Misia Sert. Misia, a pianist of Polish descent, was a muse to many renowned artists such as Renoir and Lautrec. The relationship between the two women was so passionate that, by all accounts, seemed to be more than just friendly. Yet now and then, no matter how much they loved and took care of one another, feelings of envy and hatred would emerge.
The two women met at a dinner party at the home of a common friend, an actress and one of Chanel’s clients, Cecile Sorel. Misia was immediately awed and overwhelmed by Chanel’s graceful and reserved presence. She sat next to her at dinner and soon they found themselves submerged in conversation about their lives. When it was time to say goodbye for the night Misia admired Chanel’s beautiful red velvet coat and Chanel didn’t hesitate to offer it to her as a gift. This beautiful gesture caught Misia by surprise and although she declined, she couldn’t help but feel struck by her charm. When Capel died, Misia stood by Chanel’s side. Her attachment to Chanel was so strong that there were times when Chanel felt smothered and tried very hard to set the right boundaries. Misia’s husband, Sert was very fond of Chanel
too. The three of them had such an affectionate relationship that the couple didn’t hesitate to invite Chanel along on their honeymoon in Italy.
Coco Chanel’s involvement in the art scene
The close friendship that developed between Misia and the Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev during their stay in Italy, made Chanel feel jealous and competitive. They seemed to be so fascinated by one another that Chanel often felt excluded. At the time, Diaghilev wanted to raise money to bring on stage once again a famous ballet that caused an uproar in the art scene of Paris in the past. Chanel offered to finance his project as long as he wouldn’t reveal her action to anyone. There is a chance Chanel used this secret as a way to come closer to Diaghilev. On the other hand, Chanel wasn’t a devious person and she most probably offered to help out of genuine interest in his art. She had the innocence of a little child.
In any event, this wasn’t the only time that Chanel got involved in the world of avant-garde art. In 1922 she was asked to design the costumes of the Greek play “Antigone” directed by Jean Cocteau.
“Because she is the greatest couturiere of our age, and it is impossible to imagine the daughters of Oedipus poorly dressed,” said Cocteau. Vogue praised her with an article once again “Chanel goes Greek while remaining French,” the title read.
In 1924, working alongside Picasso, she designed the costumes for the “Le Train bleu,” a production of
the Ballets Russes. But Misia didn’t let her enjoy it, for she thought she had to protect Chanel from
Piccaso’s charm. At that point, Misia’s intrusiveness started irritating Chanel who thought she wasn’t
actually concerned about her but rather jealous.
10. Chanel No5, a legendary perfume
“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”
The story of the first Chanel perfume –which is no other than the legendary Chanel No5 – goes back to 1920, when Chanel met the Russian-born French perfumer and chemist Ernest Beaux, right after his return from the war. Inspired by the freshness of the lakes and streams of the Land of the Midnight Sun, Beaux wanted to recreate a note that would remind him of it.
But why was it called No5? Beaux presented Chanel samples of two perfume series: No 1-5 and 20-24. The designer chose sample No5 and since she was presenting her collection on the 5th of May – the 5th month of the year – she decided to use that as her lucky number. Looking deeper into it at a symbolic level, Chanel had been taught by Capel the precepts of Theosophy and she knew that number 5 was the
representative of the alchemist’s fifth element, the aether. It could also symbolize her zodiac sign, Leo, the fifth sign of the zodiac circle.
Whether symbolic or lucky, the perfume’s success wasn’t only thanks to its name. It was the aldehydes that gave it its unique lasting flowerily smell, along with the combination of jasmine, May rose, sandalwood, ylang-ylang, neroli, and Bourbon vetiver. Its smell reminded Chanel of her childhood, and the soapy, herbal smell of the clothes in the orphanage, as well as Emilienne and all the other courtesans she’d met who smelled always clean.
The perfume launched in 1921 and it was an immediate success. It exceeded every expectation and made Chanel internationally famous. Prior to Chanel, other designers had attempted to launch their own perfumes as well, but it was she who succeeded first and established perfumes as a constant source of income for the famous fashion designers. Most importantly, perfumes don’t need to be changed every
season just like clothes do. In the following years, all the renowned fashion designers worldwide followed her lead. Chanel No5 is up until this day the most famous perfume in all five continents. After that Chanel launched a few other perfumes as well, such as No22 and Bois des IIes with equal success.
11. Coco Chanel and the Russians
“Women have always been the strong ones of the world. The men are always seeking from women a little pillow to put their heads down on. They are always longing for the mother who held them as infants.”
After the Russian Revolution in October 1917, a great number of Russian immigrants arrived in Paris. One of them was Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, one of the conspirators in the murder of Rasputin and one of the very few Romanovs who fled the country in time and escaped murder by the Bolsheviks.
Chanel was introduced to Dmitri in July 1920 by her soprano friend Marthe Davelli and was immediately charmed by his mysterious glamor. Dmitri was Davelli’s lover at the time but since he was penniless, and too “expensive” for Davelli she urged Chanel to pursue him. Dmitri, captivated by the rich and charming designer, didn’t hesitate to meet her the following day and followed her to an impulsive trip to
Monte Carlo with her brand-new blue Rolls-Royce. What came to follow was a romantic and passionate adventure.
“Every Westerner should have succumbed to “Slavic charm” to know what it is. I was captivated,” Chanel said years later. As already mentioned, Chanel had financed Diaghilev’s unconventional performance. The project’s composer, Igor Stravinsky, was grateful for the support she provided, but her generosity was not limited to money. She offered Stravinsky and his family a place to stay when they were in a poor financial condition. Not long after that, rumors started to spread that Chanel and the composer were involved in a romantic relationship, whilst his wife was suffering from tuberculosis. According to Chanel, although he expressed his love for her, she didn’t give in thinking of his marriage. The culprit behind those rumors was Misia who always stuck her nose in other people’s business, wanting to know everything about everyone. Misia, out of fear that Stravinsky would leave his wife for Chanel’s shake, got even further involved. She asked her husband Sert to bring Stravinsky to his senses, telling him that, Capel had entrusted Chanel to his care in case something was to happen to him. In any event, whichever the truth may be, and whatever their relationship was, one can easily observe Chanel’s tendency to repeatedly get involved in love triangles and illicit relationships, just like it happened with Capel and Balsan in the past. Meanwhile, the Russians did not only affect Chanel’s personal life, but they also affected her art and designs. Inspired by her romance with Dmitri, Chanel named the perfume she launched in 1927 “Cur de Russie”. But she went even further than that when she started employing exiled Russians as models,
tailors and sale assistants. Even her designs were strongly influenced by the Russian culture, as she took traditional pieces such as embroidered blouses, coats and suits of the Russian army, and stripes of fur, and transformed them with her magical hands into original, modern designs.
12. Coco Chanel’s relationship with Bendor
“There have been several Duchesses of Westminster but there is only one Chanel!”
The 2nd Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, known in his circle as “Bendor”, was the richest man in Britain. An incredibly charming man, who had dedicated his life to pleasures and beautiful women. He loved horses and sports and had an impressive collection of cars. The death of his four-year-old only son from his first marriage took its toll on him, whilst he failed to have children with
his second wife, having no heir to his immense fortune. Then, he met Chanel. They met in Monte Carlo, through a British aristocrat, who worked as a model for Chanel. Bendor invited Chanel to dine on his private yacht, Flying Cloud, one of the largest private yachts of the time. Her affair with Dmitri had not yet ended. Torn between the two men, Chanel couldn’t make a decision. The first one was entirely financially depended on her, whilst the other was willing to provide her with the financial security she always wanted. It was a tough decision, mainly due to Chanel’s insecurity in love rather than her financial concerns. Eventually, she chose to stay with Bendor. “I chose the one who
protected me the best,” she said. But she could not trust him, since he too never stopped his infidelities. It seems that none of her partners were completely devoted to her. And how could a woman whose father had once abandoned her forever be able to claim a man’s loyalty?
Her relationship with Bendor lasted for ten years. Ten wonderful years, full of love and happiness. Bendor used to spoil her with gifts and surprises and send her exotic fruits and flowers from his garden. Once, he hid a sparkling emerald in a box of vegetables. Within a few months, the two became inseparable. He used to accompany her to the reversals of the ballet show for which Chanel had designed the costumes, and she, on the other hand, had become his favorite sailing companion. They rode, went hunting and fishing, and Chanel discovered new hobbies and talents. Bendor welcomed her into his life at Eaton and she managed to fit perfectly into this new lifestyle.
However, Chanel was struggling to meet the demands of her job and at the same time to satisfy her demanding partner. When she went back to Paris to attend her fashion shows, he wanted to be with her constantly even while she was working. It was very hard for a working woman to keep up with a man who owned houses all over Europe and find the time to accompany him on his trips.
Winston Churchill, a close friend of Bendor’s, admired her and said of her: “A most capable and agreeable woman- much the strongest personality Benny has yet been up against. She hunted vigorously all day, motored to Paris after dinner, and is today engaged in passing and improving dresses on endless streams of mannequins”. The only thing that seemed to be missing from their life was a child. Chanel was never able to have one, even though she wanted to. And despite their loving and tender relationship, they never got married. As the years were passing by, Chanel was becoming more and more immersed in British culture and earned the acceptance of the Englishwomen. Therefore, in June 1927, she decided to open her London House. Her first creations, praised by Vogue, were dresses, designed to be worn on formal occasions, such as the hippodrome and the courtyard of the palace, which combined French elegance with British tradition. Some designs of her new collection, such as soft cardigans and tweed suits, as well as long and wide sweaters, accessorized with elegant strands of pearls around the neck, were influenced by Bendor’s cloths, which Chanel often borrowed when she stayed with him at his house in Scotland.
13. Coco Chanel’s summer home on the French Riviera
“Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.”
La Pausa villa
In Roquebrune-Cap-Martin at the French Riviera, Chanel built a beautiful villa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The villa took the name “La Pausa” after the legend of Mary Magdalene resting beneath the trees there after the Crucifixion. Roquebrune was a famous resort for the “bohemian” Lost Generation way before Chanel’s decision to build her villa there.
Preparations began in February 1929. The plot of land cost Chanel 1.8 million francs whilst the construction around 6 million. Having already built up a fortune of her own she didn’t need the help of any man to pay it off and it was her name on the deed, not Duke’s as many believed it was. The villa was entirely her creation based on her personal style and childhood memories. She knew exactly what she
wanted. She wanted the centerpiece of the house to be a precise replica of the Aubazine’s large stone staircase, and shutters that looked weathered. La Pausa’s architect was Robert Streitz. Whilst being very generous with him, winning his respect, there were times when Chanel would become intimidating or even insulting when there was something she didn’t like. In general, Chanel was extremely happy with
how things were turning out. She visited the construction site at least once every month, and the villa was ready in less than a year.
The result was breathtaking. The villa consisted of three wings that faced a spacious courtyard. Its interior was designed to create a comfortable atmosphere with modest luxury and simple, chic decorations. “I was certain that there were fairies in the garden in Roquebrune. They were in the trees, and there were stars entwined in Auntie Coco’s bed,” said Chanel’s great-niece, Gabrielle Labrunie. The word “dreamhouse” couldn’t describe the place better.
Coco Chanel’s parties in La Pausa villa
In this lovely villa, Chanel used to throw little house parties. She always managed to create a relaxed atmosphere for everyone, making them feel at home. They could sit wherever they liked, eat whatever they wanted, dress as they pleased – whether formal or informal – and enjoy a lovely relaxed evening. Chanel used to wear either her pink satin pajamas or occasionally comfy woolen sweaters. She ate very little, as she always did, and she was constantly moving around the room to interact and entertain her guests. Years later her friends recalled memories of her sitting in front of the fireplace, telling them stories from her childhood.
Duke of Westminster’s 3rd marriage
The Duke of Westminster used to visit La Pausa on a regular basis with his yacht as well. It seems, however, that his constant infidelities were driving Chanel mad and their fights were so great that they often disturbed the other visitors, waking them up in the middle of the night. Every time that Chanel discovered a new affair, Bendor would buy her expensive jewelry which Chanel however merciless threw into the sea. Nevertheless, it seems that the Duke’s only concern was to marry someone who would bear him the son he had always wanted. And thus, in December 1929, Bendor proposed to a younger woman, Loelia Ponsonby, and got married for the third time in February 1930. Once again Chanel’s heart broke. Once again, the person who was meant to love and protect her was marrying another woman. Yet, Chanel was a tough woman and knew how to bury her feelings and show an outer calm to the world. Even when she met Bendor’s fiancé before the wedding in La Pausa Chanel remained calm. She never let anyone know how much she suffered deep inside. Only when Bendor went to visit her in Paris after his wedding she let her tears flow, tears she rarely ever shed.
14. Coco Chanel brought white into fashion
“Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.”
While the little black dress retained its power and influence on female fashion, Chanel brought another hot trend to the fore: the white dress. “Women think of every color, except the absence of colors. I have said that black had everything. White too. They have an absolute beauty. It is perfect harmony. Dress women in white or black at a ball; they are the only ones you see,” she said. Truth being told women wore white dresses long before that. However, the trend became more noticeable after the Wall Street Crash in 1929, when everything seemed to be black but the women’s dresses. In the dark days that followed, this was the only sun ray to brighten the world, a style that Chanel characterized as “candid innocence and white satin.”
Chanel found the combination of white and tanned skin irresistible. Inspired by the image of some girls wearing their pearls under the sun and swimming in the French Riviera, in the spring of 1933 Chanel presented an all-white collection, which made a buzz once again.
One would wonder whether white had any significant meaning to Chanel. Having spent many years in a monastery, she surely knew that white, despite being a light color, in many cultures and past eras was the color of mourning and grief. In spite of that, there was once a white dress that Chanel had cherished in her memories; a white organza-made dress with a white veil that her father had given her to wear to
her first Holy Communion shortly before he abandoned her. When years later, Chanel realized that it must have probably been her father’s mistress who had chosen it and not her farther himself, its symbolic purity was forever tainted in her mind.
Even so, Chanel loved designing white dresses – but not just of any kind. Some exceptions aside, she rarely designed wedding dresses. One of those exceptions and few women who had the honor to wear a Chanel wedding gown was her sister, Antoinette. Antoinette married a Canadian man in 1919 and shortly after her marriage she departed for Canada and Chanel never show her again. Some months later Chanel
learned the tragic news: the girl had run away from home and ended up in Buenos Aires, where she died of influenza. Chanel didn’t want to discuss her sister’s death, nor did she ever let her feelings show. Nobody could readily see what was in her heart. She found it hard to reveal her pain and sorrow. “But I’ve wept so much. Now I don’t cry any more. When you don’t cry it’s because you no longer believe in
happiness,” she said.
15. Coco Chanel in Hollywood
“How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.”
Chanel’s fame continued to grow and in 1931 it reached Hollywood’s door. Samuel Goldwyn, one of Hollywood’s most prominent producers, begged her to cooperate with him on his next films by making the stars’ costumes. He believed that due to the Great Depression, Hollywood entertainment would be peoples’ only escape from the gloomy reality and thus he wanted his actors fashionable and more splendidly dressed than ever, both on and off screen. However, it wasn’t the first time that Chanel dressed a Hollywood star. Ina Claire was the first Hollywood actress to wear Chanel when a year earlier in 1930, Chanel designed for her a striking black suit with a stripe of red fox fur for a role on the big screen. Yet Goldwyn wanted so much more than just that. According to the New York times, he wanted Chanel to reorganize the dressmaking department of United Artists studios and most importantly because of that Americans could see the latest Paris fashions even before Paris itself knew them.
Chanel was hesitant at first because she knew this was a tough experiment to do. Erté, a French artist and designer, who had worked in Hollywood previously, had only the worst to say about its stars and producers, characterizing them as crotchety and tasteless. In spite of this, Goldwyn managed to persuade Chanel after all, offering her a contract of $1 million and more than 100 employees at her disposal for
the making of her clothes. In a time when the recession had hit the fashion industry and many fashion houses had no other alternative than to lower their prices – Chanel’s included – this deal was more than fair.
And thus, on February 25, 1931, Chanel accompanied by Misia took off for New York. Unfortunately, during their travel, both ladies had contacted the flu and when they reached their destination on 4th March all they wanted was to rest. Their arrival, however, had already gained publicity and reporters were already waiting by the time they reached the hotel. Despite her irritation, Chanel gathered her strength
and dressed in “a simple red jersey gown with a short skirt,” according to the Times, she appeared in front of the crowd and made a few statements and fashion predictions. And despite the flu and the exhaustion, Chanel didn’t let her style slip and impressed the crowd with her wit and attitude. A few days later the two ladies departed for Los Angeles on a train stocked with champagne and caviar per Goldwyn’s arrangements. The first movie Chanel worked on was the musical “Palmy Days”, the story of a shady psychic’s assistant, followed by the comedy “The Greeks Had a Word for It”, the story of three gold-digger showgirls, dressed by Chanel. For the third and final film “Tonight or Never” Chanel was assigned to dress Gloria Swanson who portrayed a prima donna opera singer. Although the opening reviews were positive, the movie, unfortunately, flopped at the box office and Chanel’s collaboration with Goldwyn ended for her dresses weren’t sensational enough, to make the film succeed. In spite of her efforts to introduce chic to Hollywood, she failed claiming that the Americans restrained her creativity and tried to make her serve their tacky taste. Their over-the-top comforts and tendency to show off drove her away even more. Even so, the Americans were thrilled with her fragrances and sales rose significantly, thereby increasing her profit.
Although a disappointment Chanel’s journey to America was a significant one for a whole other reason. One day while wandering lost in Beverly Hills, Misia noticed the name “Chanel” written on a gatepost. That might have startled Chanel, but she kept her thoughts to herself. America was after all the promised land of her dreams, where her father went to make a fortune and provide a better life for him and his
family. And although she knew that her father wasn’t waiting for her there, nor would he ever come back, deep inside she wanted to believe that he was somewhere out there.
16. Coco Chanel’s diamond jewelry
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion
has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
Coco Chanel’s jewelry exhibition
In February 1932, Chanel organized an extraordinary exhibition of diamond jewelry she had designed herself. The exhibition took place in her new residence, an 18th-century mansion in Faubourg Saint- Honoré street, one of the most prestigious streets in Paris. The decorations were as always carefully selected: Coromandel screens and mirrors, fluffy carpets and velvet curtains in brown and gold colors. Princesses, duchesses and all the ladies of high society went to her mansion to admire her exhibits, paying a small entrance fee for charity.
During the last decade, Chanel had already made a big impression when she combined in her jewelry both fake and real gems in such a crafted way that no one could tell their difference. The jewelry of her new collection however, only had real ones for she claimed that real diamonds were the only way to move forward in a period of financial crisis when everything else lacked authenticity. The solar system
had inspired her art; lopsided stars, a comet with a tail, suns, rays and crescents were the main themes. What no one knew was that this enchanting collection had a second source of inspiration as well: the mosaic stars on the floor of the orphanage at Aubazine were the same with her diamond ones.
Coco Chanel and Paul Iribe
For the needs of her jewelry lines, Chanel collaborated with several other prominent designers and jewelers. One of her closest collaborators and lover was Paul Iribe, a Basque illustrator, and designer in the decorative arts who had worked with many other great artists in the past. It is unknown when their relationship exactly began, however, the two were already together by the time of her exhibition in 1932 Iribe was a very energetic, charming man and a controversial figure for he had the reputation of a playboy and strong nationalistic beliefs. He had his way with Chanel, and he could easily influence her viewpoints. In 1933 he persuaded her to finance the revival of his satirical journal “Le Témoin.” Later when he criticized her luxurious life and her lavish mansion at Faubourg Saint- Honoré and her numerous maids, Chanel gave up her lease and moved into a two-room apartment, convincing herself that her new simple life was much more convenient. Years later, when Chanel considered her past with Iribe her memories weren’t all so pleasant. They might have had a passionate relationship, but he made Chanel feel exhausted and rather annoyed by him. She thought that Iribe’s love wasn’t sincere and deep inside he was jealous of her. “He loved me with the secret hope of destroying me,” she said, and that wore her out, and ruined her health.
In the summer of 1935, Iribe joined Chanel at La Pausa. Some days later and while playing tennis with Chanel, Iribe collapsed with a heart attack and died on the court. Chanel, once again, grieved in silence and she never used the tennis court ever again, which to this day remains neglected and full of weeds.
17. Coco Chanel’s life during the WWII
“For a woman, to deceive makes only one kind of sense: that of the senses.”
Coco Chanel, a Secret Nazi Spy?
From all the rumors that circulated around Chanel, the one that blemished her reputation inevitably was accusing her of being a Nazi collaborator during World War II. What led to the accusation in the first place was Chanel’s romantic involvement with a German officer named Hans Gunther von Dincklage in 1939 at the beginning of the war. Von Dincklage, known by his friends as Spatz, was in fact an attaché
to the German embassy in Paris, however many suspected him to be a Nazi spy. He was a tall, good-looking, blond man, 13 years younger than Chanel. Chanel, at 58 at the time, when questioned whether she had been involved with a German, she replied: “Really, sir, a woman of my age cannot be expected to look at his passport if she has a chance of a lover,” for he made her feel desirable after all. Her actions during the war were even more baffling than her affair and thus no one can say for sure whether she collaborated with the Germans or not. Chanel’s tendency to complicate the events surrounding her and the inability of the French police to keep a valid record of this woman confused things even further.
The House of Chanel closed its doors
At the onset of WWII, in September 1939, the house of Chanel closed its doors. Chanel’s decision to do so rose many questions to the public since the threat of war made the French loosen up; the couture houses were flourishing, people were celebrating, money and music were all around. But Chanel had stopped designing clothes.” This is no time for fashion,” she said and laid off almost all her employees
but a handful of them who kept her boutique open only to sell perfume. While that seems like a justifiable reason today, at the time was seen as an act of cowardliness. At a later time, she explained that there was no reason to keep her business open when all her staff and clients were gone just in a few hours after the declaration of the war – everyone had someone in uniform either a husband, a brother or a father. Having closed her business and on the verge of poverty, Chanel sends a letter to her brothers Lucien and Alphonse, telling them that she could no longer provide financial help for them like she used to in the years before. Chanel’s brothers had never been part of her life, yet she tried to support them financially doing the best she could all these years (she even bought Lucien a house near Clermont-Ferrand). But after the war, Chanel never saw either of them again. Lucien died in 1941 of a heart attack and Alphonse after the war.
As the German troops approached Paris, accompanied by her closest female employees, Chanel fled the city, and together they found refuge in the Pyrenees, at the home of her nephew, André, who had left for the front. Overnight Paris had become an empty city. Shortly after the German occupation of Paris, she returned to town and continued to meet with von Dincklage. In the meantime, her nephew had been taken
prisoner in a concentration camp and Chanel begged von Dincklage to intervene and get him freed, but he lacked the influence and was unable to do it. Chanel flatly refused to re-open her business and work with German clients, as opposed to other designers who took advantage of the situation. The only German she associated with was von Dincklage and led a quiet life, avoiding any social contact with the rest of them, behaving as they didn’t even exist.
Coco Chanel’s interrogation
After the liberation of France in 1944, Chanel was questioned by the French Interior Forces (Forces Francaises de l’Interieur – FFI). Unlike other women who were subjected to violent and degrading treatment for their collaboration with the Germans – they saved their heads, stripped their clothes and beat them – Chanel was quickly released. Rumors said she had been under the protection of Winston Churchill, a close friend of hers for decades, and that was why investigators treated her with respect. Her maid, Germaine Domenger, defended her by saying that the FFIs had no charge against her, and thus they let her go, without the help of any politician.
In the meantime, Chanel made a clever move, better than any political maneuvering – Churchill’s alleged help included. She announced that she would give free perfumes to the GI’s who started queuing up outside her boutique just to get a bottle of Chanel No5. And thus, if the French police touched a hair of her head the GI would certainly be outraged. Chanel had confronted her prosecutors with courage and
efficiency, but the war had taken its toll on her and she was seldom seen in Paris anymore. She was so exhausted that her public appearances were curtailed.
18. Coco Chanel’s comeback
“There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That
leaves no other time!”
Coco Chanel’s legal dispute with the Wertheimers
In order to launch Chanel No5 in 1921, Chanel collaborated with the Wertheimer brothers – Pierre and Paul, who owed the Bourjois cosmetics company – to found Les Parfums Chanel. Chanel, however, felt wronged, as she was given only a 10% share in the company. Thus, just before the war, Chanel started some legal proceedings against the Wertheimers, who happened to be Jewish. In an attempt to earn what
was rightfully hers and oust her business partners, she used the anti-Jewish laws of the German Occupation and failed. Her strategy was interpreted by the French as anti-Semitic and tarnished her reputation, which had already been stained by rumors of her cooperating with the Germans. And so, in 1946, advised by her lawyer, Chanel followed a new tactic. She launched new intoxicating scents, labeled in bold red with her name, Mademoiselle Chanel. The new scents were so good that could rival her previous ones produced by Bourjois. She named them Chanel No1, No2, and No3. In just a few days the Wertheimers, terrified, knocked on her lawyer’s door ready for a settlement by negotiation.
Under the deal that followed, Chanel would receive approximately $1 million annually from the perfume sales worldwide and a sum calculated to cover past royalties. She also retained the right to launch her own perfume line, which she didn’t do since she received enough money to never need to work again.
Coco Chanel’s life after the war
In the years following World War II, Chanel lived away from fashion. She was traveling all around, from La Pausa to Monte-Cartlo, to London and Switzerland, where she was reunited with her two beloved men: Von Dincklage – their affair continued for a few more years – and André, whose health unfortunately never fully recovered after his imprisonment by the Nazis and to whom she had gifted a villa near Lake Geneva. Maybe she needed a place of neutrality, a little rest and quiet, far away from Paris, where she was constantly confronted with reminders of the gloomy past.
The war was over, and she had more than enough money for the rest of her life, but it wasn’t a happy time for Chanel, as many of her friends and loved ones were passing away. Grand Duke Dmitri died of chronic tuberculosis in 1941. Balsan and Bendor both died in 1953, whereas the death of Missia in October 1950 was the hardest one for Chanel. Misia’s struggle with drug addiction began after the death of her ex-husband and she quickly became dangerously reckless, injecting morphine even in public places. Chanel was occasionally using opiates as well but mostly as a sedative. After a trip with Chanel to Switzerland and upon their return to Paris, Misia died. Chanel was the one who prepared Misia’s body for the funeral. She dressed her in a white dress and filled her casket with white flowers, making her look just like a queen.
Coco Chanel’s comeback attempt
In 1954, Chanel was 70 years old. She had stopped designing clothes for many years, but she never really walked away from the fashion industry and she was constantly observing the new trends. As a female designer, she understood perfectly the needs of her clients, and so the clothes she used to make were comfortable, giving the freedom of movement and breathing. No wonder, she was deeply disappointed
and infuriated when Christian Dior brought back the corset that tormented the female body once again. In that time, Chanel was photographed with crimson lips, black eyeliner and a lit cigarette in her fingers, like the burning in her heart, a never-ending flame, an energy waiting to be released. And so, in February 1954, Chanel launched a comeback collection an attempt perhaps to get out of her boredom and maintain her fame.
Parisians didn’t like her new designs and the reviews were not very positive, a punishment perhaps for her wartime past. They found her new collection to be a sad repetition of her old designs, a disappointing reflection of the past unable to adapt to the new trends. Bettina Ballard, however, fashion editor of the American Vogue Magazine, who liked these classic and timely designs, rushed to her support. She put
Marie-Hélène Arnaud on the cover of the March issue – an unknown French model who later became the “face of Chanel.” Marie-Hélène was posing in a comfortable pose wearing a navy-blue jersey suit, its cuffs rolled up, a white blouse and a navy straw sailor hat.
19. America makes Chanel famous again
“Fashion is always of the time in which you live. It is not something standing alone. But the
grand problem, the most important problem, is to rejuvenate women. To make women look
young. Then their outlook changes. They feel more joyous.”
Chanel’s birthplace no longer gave her the recognition she deserved, but America and Life magazine – America’s biggest magazine of the time – made her into an idol. In addition to the excellent quality of her products, her elegant appearance, unchanged over time, made her even more popular. Her white silk shirt and the many rows of pearls around her neck became her trademark. People loved her characteristic
way of standing, “looks as relaxed as a cat and has an impertinent chic; one foot forward, hips forward, shoulders down, one hand in a pocket and the other gesticulating,” Bettina Ballard said.
The sales of lace dresses and women’s suits went up once again. The fact that Chanel stayed true to the androgynous style she was promoting was one of the things that made her so special. Her goal was to make clothes, in which women would feel confident, look beautiful and young. That’s exactly what they needed. On the contrary, male designers, according to Chanel, who did not know women all that well, made them look strange and uncomfortable in the clothes that they designed.
Coco Chanel’s new trends
Although she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis in her fingers, Chanel started working feverishly. Despite her old age, she had still a few surprises up her sleeve. She redesigned her signature jacket, using jersey and tweed fabric and decorated it with grosgrain ribbon and gold-plated buttons carved with her favorite and most famous symbols such as lion’s heads, stars, camellias and the double C logo. To match
the jacket, and saying she got fed up with holding her purses in her hands, in February 1995, she launched a bag of quilted leather with a gold chain and a leather cord, named 2.55 after its launch day. The quilted leather reminded her of her love of riding and the jackets that stable boys used to wear. And with her strong sense of style, in 1957 Chanel introduced another new fashion, the two-tone slingback pumps,
inspired by Bendor’s two-tone shoes, that he wore while golfing. The beige leather tipped with black toes shoes became instantly famous. Thanks to the contrasting-coloredtoe, the shoes not only made the foot look smaller, but the leg look longer as well. After all, according to Chanel, “A woman in good shoes is never ugly.”
Chanel’s new masterpieces dressed many French stars of the time, such as Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau, both on and off screen. Many Hollywood stars loved her creations as well, including Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly. The publicity of the clothes boosted the sales of Chanel’s perfumes too. Yet, there was one star who unintentionally made the best advertising for Chanel, that would cost millions of dollars otherwise. It was Marilyn Monroe, who when asked what she wore to bed, she famously replied, “Why, Chanel No. 5, of course.”
20. Coco Chanel’s special scissors
“I make fashions women can live in, breath in, feel comfortable in, and look young in.”
Every time Chanel walked into her couture house in Rue Cambon, there was a “ritual” before she got to work. One of her assistants would hang a long white ribbon around her neck, with a pair of scissors threaded through it. She had long since given up sewing, which reminded her of her old humble life as a seamstress, but she never stopped wielding her scissors. These scissors seemed to have the magic power
to transform cloths into the desired shape.
The way she moved her hands over a model’s body, measuring and snipping cloths, had according to some people something erotic to it. Bettina Ballard, however, had another opinion. She said that the relationship between Chanel and her models was like a mother-daughter one, rather than sexual. Chanel used to fascinate them with her words and convert them to her way of thinking. They, on the other hand,
saw her as their teacher and heroine, and nothing more.
Chanel though, didn’t use her scissors just for cutting cloths. She used to cut her models’ hair short herself, because she didn’t like the haircuts the hairdressers did. According to a close friend of hers Claude Delay, Chanel’s horror of hair derived from her childhood because her father hated the smell of her hair. From 1954 onwards, in most of her appearances, Chanel was seen with a hat either to cover her
thinning, aging hair or just to proudly keep her head up high.
The symbolism of scissors in Chanel’s life
Beyond its practical utility, maybe scissors had a symbolic value in Chanel’s life too. They could symbolize her need to break free of her past. Chanel cut out of her life both her family and the orphanage’s nuns, who hurt her and deprived her of her freedom. She wanted to get rid of her childhood trauma and the most effective way to do that was to forget. For this reason, she was designing clothes that could set women free. She wanted to make them feel so comfortable in them, that they would even forget they wear clothes in the first place.
Yet, this unlimited freedom came with a price: a bitter loneliness. Chanel had no husband to control her and no family responsibilities but as she grew older, she thought how badly she had failed in her life and that all her loved ones were gone. She was left all alone with her lifeless designs. One day she told Delay, “A woman who doesn’t love is no woman, whatever her age … A woman needs to be looked at by a man
who loves her … without having to look at her.”
21. Coco Chanel’s final years
“I am not young but I feel young. The day I feel old, I will go to bed and stay there. J’aime la
vie! I feel that to live is a wonderful thing”
Chanel spent the last years of her life in a hotel room at the Ritz Hotel, which had become her home since before the war even began. In that room, with the white walls and white sheets, which she had specially requested, Chanel found herself submerged in loneliness. In fact, she was not alone. Her maids were always around and often her niece, Gabrielle, the daughter of André, and her good friend Delay kept her company. Yet, Delay said she had found her several times in her room, in her white pajamas, looking with melancholia out of her window and complaining that she was living alone. “One shouldn’t live alone. It’s a mistake. I used to think I had to make my life on my own, but I was wrong,” she said. The only thing that seemed to bring her joy was her job.
Coco Chanel’s loneliness
Coco Chanel’s loneliness had nothing to do with others around her, but rather it was a much deeper feeling. There are times when we are surrounded by so many people, yet we feel lonelier than ever because we think that others cannot get how we feel or that we are missing authentic connection and communication. And we feel the loneliest when we alienate from ourselves. When we lose ourselves and forget our own feelings, then effective communication is impossible.
Chanel throughout her life had to set her pain and sorrow aside in order to survive. She was a dynamic and independent woman with a smile on her face, despite her painful childhood, the shame of her past, the betrayal of her loved ones, and later their loss, and even the rumors about her after the war. She found the meaning of her existence in her work, but perhaps Chanel presented a mask to the world and underneath that mask, she ached to be loved and appreciated. As a result, she hid her suffering, she cut herself off from her emotions and she felt cut off from other people as well.
Coco Chanel’s death
Chanel worked up until the last moments of her life, preparing for the show of her new collection. On January 10, 1971, Delay visited her and lunched with her. Then the two women left for an afternoon drive through the streets of Paris and later Chanel returned exhausted to her room. She lay on her bed without even taking off her clothes, and shortly afterward she screamed that she could not breathe. Her maid opened the window and helped her inject her last morphine. “You see, this is how you die,” were her last words. That was indeed the end of Chanel. A heart attack was reported as the cause of death. Her funeral service took place at L’Eglise de la Madeleine in Paris. She was dressed in a white suit and blouse and her coffin was covered with white camellias and gardenias – her favorite flowers. She looked small and tiny, just like a little princess.
Most of her loved ones had died before her, but well-known designers such as Yves Saint-Laurent and Balenciaga, as well as all of her models, and many other prominent figures such as Salvador Dali, came to pay their respects and attended the ceremony. As per her request, she was not buried in Paris but in Switzerland.
There are five lions engraved on her tombstone, her lucky number, her astrological symbol and “lucky charm,” and white flowers instead of a tomb because she said she wanted to be able to move around rather than lie under a stone. Coco Chanel passed away in 1971 aged 87.
She ruled over Parisian haute couture for six decades and her name became a legend. Not only she inspired women worldwide, but she became a role model, an influencer of her times, a fashion icon. Her fashion house still thrives today, many decades after her death, due to her elegant, simple designs that withstand the passage of time. The double C logo, designed by Coco Chanel herself, is undoubtedly the most recognized logo in the world, a symbol of elegance and luxury. But above everything else, Coco Chanel made history. She was the first designer who tried to make women feel comfortable and love their bodies. “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury,” she said. Chanel, a poor, orphaned girl from Auvergne shocked and revolutionized the fashion world.
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Below you can find the whole collection of Coco Chanel’s mottos and quotes in text form.
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Coco Chanel rare and unique Mottos
1. A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.
2. Fashion fades, only style remains the same.
3. Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.
4. Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.
5. The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.
6. Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.
7. Elegance does not consist in putting on a new dress.
8. A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.
9. Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.
10. In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.
11. There are people who have money and people who are rich.
12. Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.
13. Elegance is refusal.
14. Jump out the window if you are the object of passion. Flee it if you feel it. Passion goes,
15. As long as you know men are like children, you know everything!
16. It is always better to be slightly under-dressed.
17. Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.
18. Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.
19. Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.
20. Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those
who have already taken possession of their future.
21. Great loves too must be endured.
22. I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.
23. A woman has the age she deserves.
24. My friends, there are no friends.
25. Fashion is made to become unfashionable.
26. Those who create are rare; those who cannot are numerous. Therefore, the latter are stronger.
27. Gentleness doesn’t get work done unless you happen to be a hen laying eggs.
28. Since everything is in our heads, we had better not lose them.
29. How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.
30. Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.
31. Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion
has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.
32. As soon as you set foot on a yacht you belong to some man, not to yourself, and you die of
33. There have been several Duchesses of Westminster but there is only one Chanel!
34. Women must tell men always that they are the strong ones. They are the big, the strong, the
wonderful. In truth, women are the strong ones. It is just my opinion, I am not a professor.
35. I invented my life by taking for granted that everything I did not like would have an opposite,
which I would like.
36. There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That
leaves no other time!
37. I am not young but I feel young. The day I feel old, I will go to bed and stay there. J’aime la vie!
I feel that to live is a wonderful thing.
38. Fashion is always of the time in which you live. It is not something standing alone. But the
grand problem, the most important problem, is to rejuvenate women. To make women look young. Then
their outlook changes. They feel more joyous.
39. Women have always been the strong ones of the world. The men are always seeking from
women a little pillow to put their heads down on. They are always longing for the mother who held them
40. I imposed black; it’s still going strong today, for black wipes out everything else around.
41. A dress is neither a tragedy, nor a painting; it is a charming and ephemeral creation, not an
everlasting work of art. Fashion should die and die quickly, in order that commerce may survive…The
more transient fashion is the more perfect it is. You can’t protect what is already dead.
42. My age varies according to the days and the people happen to be with. When I’m bored I feel
very old, and since I’m extremely bored with you, I’m going to be a thousand years old in a minute.
43. Those on whom legends are built are their legends.
44. People’s lives are an enigma.
45. I don’t like the family. You’re born in it, not of it. I don’t know anything more terrifying than
46. Childhood- you speak of it when you’re very tired, because it’s a time when you had hopes,
expectations. I remember my childhood by heart.
47. Nothing makes a woman look older than obvious expensiveness, ornateness, complication.
48. Fashion, like landscape, is a state of mind, by which I mean my own.
49. We only like people because of their failings.
50. Fashion is not simply a matter of clothes; fashion is in the air, borne upon the wind.
51. If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent their growing.
52. Luxury is a necessity that begins when necessity ends.
53. True generosity means accepting ingratitude.
54. To disguise oneself is charming: to have oneself disguised is sad.
55. For a woman, to deceive makes only one kind of sense: that of the senses.
56. Spray yourself wherever you might be kissed. A woman who overdoes it with perfume has no
future, for she will only offend her friends and admirers.
57. When you don’t cry, it is because you no longer believe in happiness.
58. The first of all luxuries is perfume.
59. The English hide everything, the Americans show everything.
60. A chic woman would dress well but not eccentrically.
61. How I loathe passion! What an abomination, what a ghastly disease! The passionate man takes
no notice of the outside world or of other people; he sees them merely as instruments; the weather,
happiness, the neighbour’s rights, these things don’t exist for him.
62. I make fashions women can live in, breath in, feel comfortable in, and look young in.
63. Elegance in a garment is the freedom of movement.
64. A woman with good shoes is never ugly. They are the last touch of elegance.
65. Fashion is always of the time in which you live. It is not something standing alone.
66. A woman who is badly perfumed is not a woman.
67. I take refuge in beige, because it’s natural. Not dyed. Red, because it’s the colour of blood and
we’ve so much inside us it’s only right to show a little outside.
68. When one makes up one’s mind to tell the truth, one has to go all the way.
69. A woman who is not loved is no woman, whatever her age…A woman needs to be looked at
by a man who loves her…without that look she dies.